By Sandra Nathan-Moody
Deep South Jewish Voice
A contemporary Rachel walks among the people in the Jewish community of Pensacola. She likes to be called "Cheli", a nickname acquired at a young age. She explains, "Cheli" was taken from the Hebrew pronunciation on the last syllable in her given name, Rachel.
Rachel Forer, fondly known as Cheli, is the new Shlicha, (literally translated as "emissary"), to the Jewish community of Pensacola. From a bounty of capable, screened and trained Shaliach applicants offered by the Jewish Agency of Israel, the Pensacola Jewish Federation chose Cheli.
The Pensacola Federation has participated in the Shaliach Program for the past four years. The PJF has hosted three Shlchim, Adiel Elgi, Lior Siboney and now, Cheli. The program is designed to bridge the gap between Jews of different backgrounds and Israel, while promoting an understanding of Israel's ideals.
Marge Wein, executive director of the Pensacola Jewish Federation, turned to an analogy to describe the tremendous favorable impact created in the Jewish community by the presence of a Shaliach:
It was as if a tiny stone was thrown into a pool of water. At first, there was but a tiny ripple, which did not cause much of a stir. Then, another ripple appeared, and another, until the ripples became waves. Waves of passion for being Jewish, if you will.
"With our Shaliach's personal involvement, whether it be in teaching a class on conversational Hebrew, teaching a Sunday School class or sharing a Shabbat meal with a member of Temple Beth El or B'nai Israel, the waves from the first little stone continued to reach out. Our Jewish community has been deeply touched and inspired by each of the Shlichim sent to us. We believe that we have gleaned a renewed consciousness of a enduring connection to Israel through the program."
Cheli's arrival to Pensacola occurred two days before the arrival of an unwanted visitor, Hurricane Ivan. Though she had traveled extensively, after her Israeli military service and university studies, including backpacking up the towering mountains of Nepal, mingling with natives of India and living on an apple farm in Australia, the experience of weathering a powerful hurricane was a first. Thanks to Chuck Lisner, president of the Federation, Cheli was sheltered in his home with his family during the storm.
Shortly after Ivan left behind destruction and injury, Cheli was unexpectedly joined by a former Pensacola Shaliach. Elgi flew in from Israel after hearing the news of his "Pensacola family's" frightening ordeal. The two Israelis, accompanied by Lisner and Doug Marks, set out to check on members of the Jewish community. Along the way, others were enlisted to join in. Often, gigantic limbs and piles of debris obstructed the street and had to be removed. On foot at times, the group trudged on, stopping to help anyone in distress.
Enid Sissnid recounted the surprise visit, and the welcomed help extended from these "Jews with tools," a name bestowed upon the group by grateful recipients of their emergency-learned skills.
Our house was filled with four feet of water, no electricity, no drinking water and bugs swarming in and out of the broken windows. Suddenly, standing in the doorway, I see these smiling, concerned faces, offering help. If not for this timely help, I am sure that our home would have sustained more permanent damage."
As this mitzvah was carried out from house to house, until exhaustion and darkness stopped their work, Cheli received her unconventional, but indelible, introduction to Pensacola and its Jewish community. With no time to familiarize herself with new people and surroundings, she dove right in and lent aid to the situation at hand. This resilient, young woman won the hearts of those with whom she would work and live for the next year, long before they could correctly pronounce her name.
She was born in Israel. Her grandparents were in Poland during World War II, joining with Partisan fighters and living in the woods. They nearly starved and lost a baby while in hiding, but survived. Her mother was born in Austria before the family moved to Israel.
As for Cheli's impression of Pensacola's Jewish community, she seems to glow when she describes her instant attachment to "the warm and accepting community.
My goal, the goal of the Shaliach Program, is to establish a lasting bridge of connection between the global Jewish community and Israel. I am excited about the year ahead, and hope to increase Jewish awareness, knowledge and pride in those with whom I come in contact."
Clearly, the results of Pensacola's Jewish community's participation in the Shaliach Program are nothing short of outstanding. A renewed sense of Jewish identity and an enhanced affinity for Israel is evident if you speak with members of the Jewish community in Pensacola. "The Shaliach Program brings vitality in the Diaspora, and instills optimistic hope for the future of our community, as well as that of Israel."
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